The day was beautiful, the air crisp. When I rose to my feet, I knew today was something different from what had happened in the past. My beautiful partner had arisen shortly afterward, and she spent several moments cradling me in her arms. She stroked my head, and kissed my cheek, as if to say things would be fine. But they weren’t. They couldn’t be.
I had lost my innocence; my desire to serve our people had put me into this position. Now I had to be honest with her. She advised me, so often, not to give in to the bloodlust, the madness which had overtaken our people. They clamored for revenge; I appealed for calm. There was something about this position I had inherited. It was something I never wanted, yet but my predecessor believed me the “chosen.” Instead of feeling honored and happy, I felt devastated and dismayed, more each day.
Ours was a powerful civilization. We had ruled the seas and skies for generations. Our emblem, a bright blue flame, burned atop the tallest tower in our capitol for millennia, never extinguishing. We had no king, no emperor. Instead, we relied on a collection of leaders to steer us in the right direction. At the head of this civilization was our current leader, Pideron, a military genius who, the day he passed from us, was over 200 years old. He summoned me to his bedside when it was determined he would not survive the night.
His chamber was sparse; it had very few furnishings aside from a bed. A small device was attached to his neck; it monitored his pulse, breathing, and neural activities. His physician stood by his bedside, clad in grey robes, reading a handheld medical display. In the past, when Pideron spoke, it was with great command and determination. Today, he spoke with the kindness of a grandfather. A gentle nod to me was all which was needed to indicate it was safe to come near. My mate with me, we stood by his bed.
“My Power,” I used this customary greeting at times with him. “What do you ask of me?”
“Torun,” Pideron stated. “I have felt the energy of the Great Flame and it has spoken to me.”
“Yes?” To know Pideron had spoken to the Great Flame was amazing. Such a feat was unheard of in the military. Only the Spiritual Guides were believed to have that ability. “What did it say?”
“It warns against pride,” he croaked. “It warns that an end is coming. You must guard against it.”
“How?” I was confused. “I have no authority in our structure.”
“Yes, you do,” he grinned, stroking my face with the last ounce of strength he had. “More than you know.”
An aide of Pideron’s approached with a case. Unlatching it, the aide opened the case to reveal the Skeen, a blue headpiece which only Pideron was allowed to wear. Our ancient scrolls spoke of the first Power, Manaae, who was given the Skeen from the Great Flame thousands of years ago. Nobody knew what it was made from; we only knew that the one who was chosen to wear it led our military, our culture, and our civilization. That person became the Power. Many wanted it, but only a few ever held possession. It was rumored that the Skeen endowed the Power with special abilities; second sight, energy manipulation, and ability to sense the collective will and make decisions based on it.
“You must take it,” Pideron implored me. “You must wear the Skeen.”
“I can’t,” I jumped back. “I’m not worthy, or ready.”
“You are, very much so. You wish our people to go to the stars, as I have wished. Our future lies there. Go on, you must wear it.”
Once I nodded, the aide took the Skeen from the case and walked it over to me. Gently, he rested the headpiece upon the crown of my skull and something completely unexpected happened.
I saw it all; everything! Our complete history, from the point the Skeen was first bestowed, to a final white flash, which I assumed was the end of our civilization. Gasps were heard all around, and as I emerged from my trance, I looked around and noticed the Pideron’s energy had disappeared. His physician looked at me, and shook his head. “I’m sorry, my Power. He is gone.”
Turning around, I saw my mate, Jinyae. Her eyes shined with both pride and fear. “My love, your head is glowing!”
“What?” I queried.
“The Skeen,” she cried. “It’s glowing!”
I looked in a mirror nearby, and saw what she referred to. The Skeen was now glowing with an iridescent blue energy. I could feel my strength- long sapped- now returning to me. I was as though a bolt of power had been hurled at me, and I was able to catch it and harness it. “Amazing! I’ve seen this thousands of times, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen it glow.”
“That’s because it never has,” the aide said. “Only The Chosen can make it glow. We must proceed to Antittilia.”
I nodded, knowing that our Supreme Priestess, whose spiritual guidance had saved our civilization countless times, could stop any madness setting in. My own personal advisor, Caloroda, was outside the door, listening in. He entered, grinning as usual. “My leader, congratulations on your achievement. Though the aide says a trip to Antittilia is in order, might I suggest you address our people first?”
“No,” I shook my head. “Antittilia must confirm my choosing. It is the way of things.”
We made our way past Caloroda, who appeared incensed. Surely a simple aide could not override the decision of one of my trusted attaches, I mused. Yet this aide did, because he was Pideron’s and I knew that Antittilia would be the only one capable of discerning my fate, and why Pideron chose me.
Her chamber was within the center of the Great Flame Tower, upon which Pideron’s personal quarters were perched. The massive chamber, circular in design, was adorned in our emblem of the blue flame. Blue flamed torches burned all over, and the center of the chamber contained a cauldron-like circle in which The Great Flame burned, for all eternity. Just beyond it was a pathway to a throne upon which Antittilia, the High Priestess and Voice of the Great Flame, sat. She was the most beautiful creature in our civilization; a child of light and fire, she was the final word on all things which happened in Azo. Glyphs and characters, the foundation of our simple yet elegantly complex language, were carved into the throne upon which she sat.
“Pideron is dead,” Attitilia announced. “I sensed his rejoining the Great Flame.”
“Yes, Priestess,” I bowed, showing respect. “He passed on just moments ago.”
“And you,” she smiled, looking at my eyes. “Are Torun?”
“Yes,” I smiled, frightened. “But I am unsure. Am I supposed to be here?”
She took several moments, then, looking up through the skylights at the bright blue sky outside, made her pronouncement. “You could not escape your destiny, Torun. However, you will not rule for long. When The Chosen is determined, he has precious little time to rule, and must navigate our people from darkness to final light. But before that happens, a traitor will be in your midst, and will take your life. If he is successful, our civilization and all our people will perish just seconds afterwards.”
It was a sobering warning. Antittilia was always truthful; she did not have the capacity to tell anything but blatant truth. This alone took me aback. Jinyae came to me and held me, “You are now Power, my love.”
“But Antittilia’s warning,” I sighed. “What can I do?”
Jinyae looked deep into my eyes, and her sapphire blue irises met my silvery green ones. “Just live, that is all we can do.”
I nodded, and we made our way to the transport tube which raised us to the recording chamber. A massive black chamber with a single bright light, I stepped into the circle and began to follow my aide’s advice. “People, fellow flames of Azo, Pideron has rejoined the Great Flame.”
The Skeen allowed me to visualize the reactions of the people. A combination of shock, fear and genuine sadness had fallen over our empire, and it was time for me to rally them. “Pideron has chosen me, Torun, to continue his work. I have inherited the Skeen, and it has granted me wisdom. Our next logical step is to our ultimate destiny; to the stars.”
This morning, the people had marched on our tower. Jinyae looked out upon the people and called upon them for reason. “Please! Torun has done nothing wrong! He is a good man!”
I sat on my bed, sighing, looking at the Skeen which was in my hands. Why did I allow this to be put on my head, and why did I allow myself to see all the visions given? I could have blocked them; there was a way. I knew there was. Jinyae approached me and sighed. “Torun, my love. They will not leave. What happened?”
“Jinyae, my sacred,” I implored. “Please, sit down. There is something I must tell you.”
She sat down next to me, and smiled. “Nothing you can say will make me love you less.”
“My sacred,” I began, “Our civilization is near its end. I made a terrible, terrible mistake.”
“What sort of mistake?”
“Do you remember the project Caloroda requested I authorize? The weapon using the Skeen?”
“Yes,” Jinyae face slowly turned to one of horror. “Tell me you did not allow that terrible weapon to be built.”
“Not just one,” I was ashamed to admit. Caloroda had convinced me that going to the stars required us to have terrible weapons to defeat enemies. I believed him. “Many, many hundred. They were to be installed in the ships we were building to sail to the stars.”
“Torun,” she cradled my face. “We have not built a single ship. Caloroda has played you for a fool. Can you not see that?’
Suddenly, an ominous deep voice called from the background. “I believe our Power can see anything he wishes.”
We both turned to the transport vessel, and Caloroda stood there, dressed in traditional Prime Advisor garb. The gold-clad executive marched towards us with total smoothness. Part of his traditional dress included a sword which, according to legend, could split atoms in half. “My Power, our time has come. We can now create the weapon we need to unify this world, and take our legitimate place among the stars as a true power.”
That is when I began to realize what had happened. Caloroda was the one who wanted the power. I could see it in his dark eyes. Avarice and greed had infected him along the way, and now he wanted the greatest power of all, the Skeen. Now, at this moment, it was time for me to take a stand, which I did, by standing up and walking towards him. “No, Caloroda! You will not be allowed to take this power for yourself.”
“Torun,” he began. “You do not understand the opportunity before our people.”
“I understand perfectly, “I growled. “Our people deserve to go to the stars, not start a war to conquer the weak and helpless on this world. That is what you wish!”
Caloroda drew his sword, and walked towards me with it. “You are no longer fit to wield the Skeen, Torun. You are no more chosen for it than I am for this sword.”
“Caloroda!” Jinyae screamed. “No! Spare him! He will give you the Skeen!”
“No, Jinyae!” I cried back, turning to her. “We cannot allow him toÃ¢Â?Â¦”
Those were my last words. I suddenly felt, for a split second, the searing pain of a blade on my neck, and then I lost consciousness. Before that, I feel a warm fluid feeling on my body, which I knew was my life blood spewing all over, as Caloroda’s saber severed my head from my body. Within moment, all I could hear was a muffled scream, which faded, as did I.
Within a moment, Caloroda raced to Jinyae, and severed her head as well. He then tapped a console and screamed into it. “Deploy the weapon against the tower.”
“Yes, Lord,” a shrill voice called back.
What happened next was a matter of conjecture. Historical records, what few were left, indicate a massive explosion took place, and that our civilization was wiped out when the Great Flame had determined our people were not worthy of it. Afterwards, the weapon which was to harness the power of the Great Flame into a beam which could destroy anything in its path, malfunctioned, and the resulting explosion and shockwave wiped out Azo and its people. All that was left was a circular scar and some ruins which had been preserved through the ages by mineral build up.
One mistake- that was all it took. One terrible, terrible mistake.